“Attorney-client privilege.” This is another phrase we hear thrown around a lot in movies and television shows. That moment when someone confesses something really awful to their lawyer and then says: “attorney-client privilege! You can’t say anything; I’m safe!” But is that what that really means? What exactly is protected under this mysterious umbrella of secrecy? We’re going to find out in this blog, so read on!
What does it mean?
The dictionary definition of attorney-client privilege is “a legal privilege that works to keep confidential communications between an attorney and his or her client a secret.” The idea behind it is simple: a client is more likely to divulge all the facts (even the unpleasant or embarrassing ones) to an attorney if that information cannot be discussed with others without the client’s consent. Attorney-client privilege works the other way, too; ensuring that attorneys can safely provide legal advice to their clients.
What does it cover?
The attorney-client privilege covers just about every form of communication- whether it be orally, electronically through email or text messages, or hand-written letters. All of these exchanges (and more) are to be kept strictly confidential. That means it is limited to the client and the lawyer. It also covers a client’s communications with any individual who is assisting the lawyer on the case (i.e. a paralegal or another attorney). It is important to note that if anyone outside of this relationship receives any communication, the privilege is considered lost or “waived”. Be careful not to accidentally CC your mom on your emails to your attorney!
Attorney-client privilege is a critical component of the American legal system. Not only does it promote open communication while guaranteeing the confidentiality, it also encourages compliance to the law. If a person is unsure if something they’ve done is within the law, they are more likely to pursue advice of an attorney knowing that the information shared will be kept a secret thanks to attorney-client privilege.
Now, if that person shares something with an attorney for reasons other than seeking counsel, then they are not protected by attorney-client privilege. All exchanges and the information shared must be made for the sole purpose of seeking counsel- or legal advice. Here’s when movies and television shows lie to us (among other times): if a person confesses something to an attorney, they cannot simply proclaim attorney-client privilege. That person must legitimately be seeking legal advice or representation.
Exceptions to the Rule
As with most things, exceptions can be made for attorney-client privilege. It’s always best to gain clarity before sharing information, even with your attorney. If you have questions or concerns, you can reach out to us and schedule a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your case or matter. We’re available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call now at (410) 535-6100 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.